Same-Sex Couples Enter Immigration Debate
President Obama, who has championed immigration reform as one of his top priorities of his second term, has embraced a provision that would extend residency to same-sex bi-national couples. White House Senior Advisor Dan Pfieffer said that, “The president in his plan said that you should treat same-sex families the same way we treat heterosexual families.”
Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a member of the bipartisan “Gang of 8” which recently introduced a framework for passing immigration reform, has denounced the inclusion of a bi-national same-sex provision into immigration reform. McCain has stated that social issues should not be inserted into the debate over immigration, saying "Which is more important: LGBT or border security?"
Currently, the Defense of Marriage Act prohibits a spouse in a same-sex marriage from sponsoring their spouse to obtain a green card. By removing this restriction, nearly 40,000 same-sex bi-national couples would be able to apply for legal residency and possibly even citizenship.
Although President Obama, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and a slew of other lawmakers support same-sex bi-national couples, whether or not this provision will gain Congressional Republican support may preclude the passage of immigration reform.
Congressional Democrats have been adamant in their support for and inclusion of a provision in immigration reform to protect gay bi-national couples. The Democrat senators apart of the “Gang of 8” have voiced support for this provision, and Senator Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has stated that he intends to offer an amendment to the immigration reform that would included provided residency for gay bi-national couples.
Although support for same-sex binational couples is strong among Democrats, Republicans remain in control of the House of Representatives, and could ultimately decide the fate of comprehensive immigration reform passing.
Senator McCain warned that “If you're going to load it up with social issues, that is the best way to derail it, in my view." This warning is especially significant considering that Senator Lindsey Graham, another Republican member of the “Gang of 8”, stated that the inclusion of this provision could very likely kill the prospect of passing immigration reform.
If President Obama decides to set aside the issue of same-sex bi-national couples, this could cost him the gay voting constituency that heavily supported the President in 2012. Conversely, if the President were to completely reject immigration reform without the inclusion of a bi-national same-sex couple provision, this could severely affect his relationship with his Hispanic voting base.
The need to address gay bi-national couples could ultimately be deemed irrelevant in light of the Supreme Court’s review of the Defense of Marriage Act this coming March. If the court were to deem this law unconstitutional, this provision would no longer possibly impede passage of immigration reform in Congress.